What Our Kids Don't Know About Sex Can Hurt Them

THE OBSERVER

January 26, 1992|By Mark Guidera

If you have sex before you get into high school, many would consideryou one of the "cool" kids.

And don't worry, you can't get pregnant the first time.

As for the virus that causes the killer AIDS, hey, that's a disease only gays and drug users get.

Talk to kids in high and middle schools in the county and these are some of the common ideas they'll share as "facts" about sex.

If you also find that alarming, you'll agree it seems sensible for the school board to reconsider when information about AIDS and sexual intimacy is offered to students. It should be offered as part of the curriculum earlier than it is today, theninth grade.

Because as much as we might not like it, kids -- some just 13 or 14 -- are having sex. And they aren't doing so because ateacher in a classroom or an educational said "Here's a condom and this is how and why to use it."

They are having sex for a million reasons that reach into the wave of loneliness teens are experiencing in family life today and the blitz of television, movie and magazine images that telegraph to all of us that being sexy is cool.

Thankfully, we have a group of students who have put the board on notice that it must confront the realities of teen life today and shift education about AIDS and its prevention into the seventh grade.

That would give kids who are at an age when they are nearing decisions about sexual intimacy some cold hard facts -- and some good advice.

Advice about abstinence, about how to say "no" with a capital "N" and about protection (read "condoms") if events lead to sex.

Beth Dail, aBel Air High student and member of the Harford County Regional Association of Student Councils -- the prime mover behind the effort -- says the group formally will propose at next month's board meeting that:

* Information about contracting and preventing AIDS be offered in contemporary health classes in the seventh grade.

* Information include straight talk about abstinence as the best way to protect oneself from disease and about how condoms are an excellent, but not fail-safe, protection against disease.

The association is pressing the board to shift AIDS education into seventh grade because the reality of the day is that high school is too late for facts on the disease.

Unfortunately, some school board members and parents who oppose the proposal have charged the debate with their concerns about the morality of public schools engaging in the business of giving students any information about how to protect oneself from AIDS (read "condoms"). That, they argue, assumes teens have sex. And that assumption, they argue, is a veiled encouragement to have sex.

Gail Lambert, theparent of two teens, is among those who oppose health education thatincludes "safe sex" information because of her belief it is an encouragement to have sex.

"We should be teaching kids the truth. And the truth is that abstinence is the only good behavior.

"We should be teaching them about the emotional wreckage that comes from having sex outside marriage," she said.

Lambert argues that the school curriculum should focus only on teaching kids about self-esteem and thevalue of virginity.

A strong emphasis should be placed in the health education programs on the positive aspects of abstinence, I agree. But to say students should not be given information about condoms at an age when state and national statistics show they are having sex is an example of the ostrich mentality.

A few facts from the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy: The average age of first intercourse for boys is 15.7 years. For girls, it's 16.2 years; Annually, one in six teens gets a sexually transmitted disease, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, venereal warts and HIV; In 1987, 85,637 babies were born to two teen-age parents.

Pat Balducci, the AIDS Service supervisor for the Harford Health Department, says about one-third of all thepeople who come into the department's family planning clinics seeking information on sex-related issues are adolescents.

Everything Balducci has heard from these youths contradicts the argument of those who contend learning about condoms results in sexual activity.

"Weare seeing many kids in the middle school age range coming into our clinics for information about contraception and pregnancy. They usually tell us they have been active for some time before they have come to us -- the average is a year."

Whenever society gets into a discussion of sex and teaching our children about it, common sense has a tough time staying the course. sex. But keeping an eye on the facts of the day is the only way we can keep common sense from straying in the unfolding debate.

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